How much Populism is playing in meek Global Response to COVID-19 Pandemic?

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We alone represent the people’s will and messiah to solve threats to society. Such is the common sentiments of leaders now occupying the political sphere in various countries. Over the last decade, populists across the globe are making headlines. What was once seen as the past is now back with much power and vengeance. The phenomenon as described by “People vs Elite” is a center of debate among the policymakers, pundits, and scholars. The election of Donald Trump in the United States is one of the biggest successes of populist sentiments among the public. The populist ideology can be understood as:

1-      Anti- establishment and anti-status-quo.

2-      The Will of people is the heart of politics.

The populist leader alone suggests that they have the cure for the unfulfilled and long-lasting will of the common individual. Although, populism differs along political spectrum and variants. The right-wing tends to focus on socio-cultural issues like immigration and left-wing tends to believe socio-economic grievances as a core belief.

However, the spread of coronavirus across the world has brought new realities on the ground. The impact is worst for every country on the map, especially under the populist rule. The virus pandemic has highlighted the common beliefs and behaviors of populist leaders no matters which populist political spectrum. The novel coronavirus emerged as a challenge to their domestic support. While others saw as an opportunity in chaos. The strategies implemented by the populist leader at the start of the virus breakdown were so weak and ill-planned that people are suffering more than expectations.

The resistance to follow WHO guidelines, rebuffing their scientific community, ambiguity and obdurate behavior, biases in their approach to tackle crisis, and their evangelical beliefs to bully the virus make them unfit to lead their nation in such a crisis. Even a powerful country like United States run by populist leader Donald Trump put global health security at risk. The back down of US leadership under Trump undermined the global response and put the health security at risk.

Meanwhile, the populist leader across the world did not pay heed to recommendations and measures laid down by scientific community and international organizations. Mexican President Lopez Obrador held mass rallies, hugging and kissing supporters in the early days of virus spread in the country. Brazil saw the same trend where President Jair Bolsonaro joined a protest against lockdown, despite increasing cases in the country.  The US president’s approach to coronavirus pandemic remained the same in the early days. Trump administration remained optimistic that the virus will not hit hard but they failed to anticipate the lethality of the virus. Trump hold rallies attacked media and blamed fake news for all the mess.

The response of Democratic Leaders

Meanwhile, the response of democratic leaders to this pandemic is quite better. The poll survey in Germany, Italy, France had impressive results in favor of current leadership in respective countries. The German Chancellor Angela Markel led Germany’s response with strict lockdown measures and large-scale testing.

Similarly, in East Asia countries like South-Korea laid aggressive policy actions by implementing social distancing, necessary masks, etc. to decrease the spread of virus. Singapore remained another example in East Asia. In an interview with CNN, Singapore’s Prime Minister said transparency and trust of the people are key to the country’s battle against a pandemic. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern received praise for decisive and transparent action. She emerged as New Zealand’s most popular PM in a century. New Zealand has emerged as victor against coronavirus after seeing a sharp decrease in cases.

This increase in popularity and appreciation is a positive sign for the democratic leaders to come back and take the leadership to fulfill their mandates bestowed by their people.

The populist US & Global Leadership

Traditionally the US has been a trendsetter for other countries during a global crisis. Its resources proved beneficial during the crisis. It helped allies, foster partnerships to solve global issues. However, this has not been the case under US President Donald Trump.  A populist leader at the helm of the US government taking America first as its plan of action. In 2014, under President Obama, Ebola ravaged the African continent. Using the UN Platform, Obama implored the world leader to do more. He hosted health minister from 40 countries at White House for global health security summit and a renewed call for a global response to Ebola virus.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has taken the opposite pole. His response to the current COVID-19 pandemic is disastrous. He blamed China for virus spread without any evidence, blocked the shipment of vital medical supplies to other countries. Trump administration even accused the World Health Organization of failure to fulfill its responsibilities and showing pro-China bias. First US President ordered to halt its funding to an international health body WHO and now it has formally pulled out of multilateral institution. US is the single largest donor of WHO amount to $400 million in 2019.

Trump’s inadequate response to the global pandemic has not only caused embarrassment but also created a gap in global leadership. It is evident from the fact that much of US allies were left alone during the crisis. Meanwhile, China’s active response to the pandemic was praised. It provided international aid to countries of all continents. Chinese doctors provided the necessary guidelines as a part of China’s global response to Covid-19.

Populist leaders like Trump have failed to understand the essence of global leadership. The weak and bigoted leadership is not only disastrous for the country but for the international system as well. It is time to reflect our response and priorities to guide ourselves for a better future of mankind.

Author: Syed Ali Abbas

About Author: Syed Ali Abbas is a student of International relations at NUML, Islamabad.

Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Pakistan Strategic Forum.

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